Two years ago, 38-year-old homemaker Sheela started using an LPG cylinder for cooking at her house in Garshi village near Shimla. Switching to a new fuel after years of cooking over firewood on a chulha (clay stove), Sheela said she was struck by the ease of use. “On a chulha, it sometimes took half an hour just to start the fire. Then you have to constantly manage the fire while cooking. One benefit of using LPG is that I can prepare tea instantly for my guests,” she said.
Sheela is one of the two women in her village who were without of an LPG connection until the government gave it to them for free.
On December 27, when the state government completed two years, it declared that Himachal Pradesh had become the first state in the country to have “100% LPG gas coverage”. “There’s not a single home in the state now where firewood has to be burnt for cooking,” said Union Home Minister Amit Shah while addressing a public rally in Shimla that day.
According to state residents and officials, these claims may not be entirely true, but they are not too far off the mark either. Following the implementation of the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, the state government launched its own Himachal Grihini Suvidha Yojana in May 2018 to cover the remaining households. Except families having a pensioner, income taxpayer or any member employed with the government, board, corporation etc, all households of the state without an LPG connection were eligible.
“The first step of the programme was to promote wide publicity of the scheme,” said Shiv Ram, Hamirpur District Controller, Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs (DFSC). His department was the nodal agency for the scheme’s implementation.
Unless there was no female member in the family, the connections were issued only to women. In many cases, officials issued kits to a cluster of villages from a focal point.
Till December 27, 2019, the department issued around 2.64 lakh such kits around the state which has a total population of 68.64 lakh (Census 2011). Some families were still left out, as is evident by a few thousand applications received after the deadline was extended. “But we managed to cover at least 99 per cent of the households. There are around 18 lakh ration cards in the state, and almost an equal number of LPG connections now,” said Mandi DFSC L S Kanet.
Also, not all homemakers have completely switched to the new fuel. “Many people continue to use the chulha and prefer to use the cylinder occasionally or during emergencies. I myself prefer to use chulha,” said O P Thakur, Pradhan of Kufri Gram Panchayat in Mandi.
Sixty-year-old Kumja Devi of Bohag village in Shimla, too, said that she only partially uses LPG. “Dal-sabzi and chai on the gas, and roti on the chulha — that’s my usual practice. In winters, we have nearly cut-down on using LPG to save money and bask in the mud stove’s warmth,” she said, echoing the views of several other women who said that using the chulha serves the dual purpose of cooking and heating during winters.
While the “food cooked on chulha has a distinct flavour, LPG is time-saving, smoke-free, requires less effort,” said 40-year-old Nirmala, another beneficiary from Shimla.
Department officials said that a major challenge before them was to scrutinise applications in order to sift out those applicants who already possessed a cylinder. “Many people wished to get another cylinder for using it commercially at their shops or for other reasons…We collected the Aadhaar numbers of not just the applicants but the entire family and conducted a de-duplication process,” said Ram.
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